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German Literature: a Very Short Introduction, Nicholas Boyle
(Oxford University Press, 2008) Additional topic to be included in the German version:
(ii) The Literature of Austria and the Hapsburg Empire
Austria was different. First of all it was an empire, not a nation, nor a federation aspiring to nationhood: from 1526, long before it bore the name of empire, the union of Austria, Bohemia and Hungary was imperial in character. Unlike Germany, it was multicultural, multilingual, and it had a single centre. No city in Germany, before 1871, had the status of unchallenged capital enjoyed by Vienna, the residence of a monarch who was, at times, the most powerful in Europe. On the one hand, therefore, cultural life was marked by the pre-eminence of a single metropolis as nowhere else in the German-speaking world. On the other, the development of a German-language literature could not have the same nation-building significance that it had in the northern, monoglot, German lands. Second, the Hapsburg territories were Catholic, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries increasingly so as absolute monarchs sought to impose uniformity on Silesia, Bohemia and Hungary. This meant that a major reason for cultivating the German language – that it was the language of Luther and his reform – was absent, and that a great poet such as Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694), writing the most elaborate and linguistically imaginative sonnets of her time within the Lutheran tradition of mysticism, had to find refuge in Germany, in Nuremberg. It also meant that Latin remained much longer, and more firmly, the language of school and university (and so of school and university drama) than in the North. And since the personnel and administration of Church and State were largely distinct, and Catholicism remained
The world however is indebted to Joseph II’s attempts to emulate his northern neighbours and to counter the growing power of Prussia. In response to the Napoleonic threat. on the assumption that he could outdo Weimar in its own genre. in the 1780s. had no parallel in the German North. the literature of the Protestant states was at the peak of its prestige in the German-speaking world. The Viennese popular theatres themselves. (Die Zauberflöte. he made his . Austria was in the eighteenth century unaffected by the peculiar confluence of factors which led Protestant Germany to develop a substitute. entertaining not the court but the urban population. since his encouragement of secular and vernacular culture. Emperor of Austria.-2relatively impervious to deist influences (though not to all forms of the Enlightenment). The first shock was administered by Napoleon. though. and specifically. 1791). Francis II took on the title of Francis. Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872) was given the title of Imperial court dramatist in 1818 as a result of the success of his five-act blankverse drama Sappho. At the time therefore when Austria’s political identity was becoming fully distinct from that of Germany. secular religion of Art and ‘Bildung’ for an officialdom caught up in a crisis of faith. about the incompatibility of ‘Art’ and ‘Life’. and in 1806 the Holy Roman Empire ended altogether. and drawing on Spanish and Italian traditions both of religious drama and commedia dell’arte. in 1804. and they contributed decisively to the rise of a distinctive Austrian literature. and two further shocks destroyed it. of German-language opera. Two great historical shocks gave Austria a German-language literature of its own. (In the event. gave us Mozart’s Seraglio (1782) and Emanuel Schikaneder’s (1751-1812) libretto for The Magic Flute.
It was also. of course. and for a specific theatre. But his situation and concerns were very different. or comic. It also gave his dramas a moral structure totally at odds with that of the Protestant dramas which came out of Weimar and its succession. until in 1838 an unsuccessful comedy led him to withdraw his plays. All his plays. if fragile. inevitably. gesture and visual and stage effects. mattered seriously to him. Catholicism. or that he wanted to curry favour with the court. 1834) was designed to recycle some of the props of The Magic Flute.-3career in the Imperial civil service) The authority of the great achievements of secularized Protestantism. He concentrates on analysing not the motives of decisions but their consequences: ‘fate’ or ‘necessity’. Grillparzer’s plays do not culminate in a moment of aesthetic or ethical transcendence. Hungarian. not to be read. make more use of costume. Not that his outlook was provincial. than was normal in the more abstract drama of the North. committed him to a belief in the historical embodiment of God’s purpose in particular institutions. of Goethe and Schiller. historical. or occasionally the redemption. His fairy tale play. leads not towards an act but away from it. Spanish. tragic. his deep. but because the survival and coherence of a Hapsburg political and cultural tradition. (The . not fortuitously. based on Calderón. always present in Grillparzer’s mind. was. In the first half of his life. In his trilogy The Golden Fleece (Das goldene Vlies. rather. to achieve thematic and symbolic unity. for him. 1821) the story of Jason and the Argonauts is told only as a prelude to a cruelly precise dissection of the subsequent mixed marriage which the self-obsessed Jason has forced on Medea. and Czech themes and sources figured prominently in most of Grillparzer’s work. he was writing for performance. but in the tragic outcome. of moral error. and which is doomed by the snobbery of Greek racism. centred on Austria. A Dream is Life (Der Traum ein Leben. the Romantics and the philosophers.
published 1872) shows the complex of individual and collective moral failings that are punished by the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. if there is such a thing. plain to the narrator. 1848. The legacy of Schikaneder on which Grillparzer drew was more directly continued by two theatrical geniuses. 1847) transforms his own self-doubt into a meditation on the relation between faith and works. written in retirement. the story The Poor Fiddler (Der arme Spielmann. Fraternal Strife in the House of Hapsburg (Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg. making his debut as Sarastro in The Magic Flute. art and morality: the beauty of the fiddler’s playing is known only by him. In the 1850s he had a similar success with parodies of . soon becoming a member and director of the theatre Schikaneder founded. His one significant piece of narrative prose. Ferdinand Raimund (1790-1836) developed the fairy-tale play with magical effects towards moral and social criticism but from the early 1830s was overshadowed by the inexhaustible talent of Johann Nestroy (18011862). He took advantage of the brief abolition of censorship during the 1848 revolution to venture into political satire (Freedom in Much Snoring [Freiheit in Krähwinkel]) and enjoyed himself hugely at the expense of the immigrant Hebbel’s grandiloquent characters in Judith and Holofernes (1849).-4picture of Greece could not be further from Winckelmann.) Grillparzer’s greatest play. but his selfsacrificing death makes his true character. and moving on from the fairy-play to topical satirical farces in which he sang and acted as the principal figure: ‘every word a joke’. Nestroy began in opera. though still with the needs of the theatre in view. said a contemporary.
Even more than Grillparzer. deal with the relation between Nature and human morality and seem on the surface to suggest a Catholic conception of natural law: the rules of moral behaviour. But. While ‘Nature’ in German ‘classical’ and Romantic literature still had strongly theological overtones. he found a more secure living as a reforming inspector of schools. 1853). Stifter lived in the age of Ludwig Büchner and Darwin. Stifter owed his education to Benedictine monks. but collective teaching and learning. ‘Bildung’ for Stifter therefore meant not ‘culture’ but ‘education’. even if the theology was pantheist. set in the rural Austria and Bohemia that he knew best. Gifted both as a painter and a writer.-5Wagner and his introduction of Offenbach to the Vienna stage prepared the way for the operettas of Johann Strauss. read more closely. a matter of the individual conscience. simply conform us to what in the end we know is best for us and what fundamentally it is in our nature to want. A second and even more important difference from the ideology of Weimar lay in his concept of Nature. Nestroy’s satirical sniping at the ironsides of German literature was an oblique admission of its power and influence. Born into a poor family in a village in the Bohemian Forest. Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) had to struggle with the magnetic force of the German example. of which his finest single collection was Wayside Gems (Bunte Steine. the stories are far more disturbing: morality in them is not. not an individual process of selfcultivation. and even of religious observance. helping to found a ‘Realschule’ – a modern school teaching vocational subjects – in Linz. as in the Kantian tradition. it is a matter of the learned and traditional behaviour of . principally of long short stories (often wrongly categorized as ‘Novellen’). Most of his stories. trying to bend it to a different purpose.
1857): two volumes in which almost nothing happens. but the hero is gradually inducted into a life of the ritualistic contemplation and preservation of beauty. or are they simply a mechanism for survival? – Stifter. which at times is explicitly referred to its Goethean model. flags. end with an indication that the tradition they have chronicled or the meaning they have created is now a thing of the past: the position of the reader. Many stories. the desolate steppes of Hungary. the traditions handed down from one generation to the next. Stifter’s novel Indian Summer (Der Nachsommer. That threat of vulnerability is present on every page of one of the strangest books of the nineteenth century. The device is terrifying on the small scale. is unimaginably vast and indifferent to humankind – across that vastness are stretched the frail systems of communication by which human beings come to each other’s help: smoke-signals. however. the place-names that give human meaning to silent hills and rocks and trees. The penalty for breaching human moral solidarity in Stifter’s stories is extinction: without it communities fall apart and individuals die.-6whole communities. properly. it is implied. . returns no clear answer. To the theological question – are the commandments to goodness God-given. And the importance of that behaviour for the communities is that by it alone they survive. but expanded to the length of a novel it is unconvincing. is achieved against the background of a permanent but unvoiced threat of the loss of meaning and control. telescopes. in the story Mountain Crystal (Bergkristall) in Wayside Gems. The Nature that he represents as the endless forest. and like Grillparzer in The Poor Fiddler. the empty mountain ranges. is seriously vulnerable. But the beauty and order.
Military defeat by Prussia and the expulsion of the Hapsburg interest from Germany and Venice forced a reappraisal of the entire Imperial structure. with extensive primary resources. and especially to its long-standing ideology of autonomous ‘Art’. the relation between ‘Art’ and ‘Life’. was a central concern throughout his early years. giving a large measure of independence to the kingdom of Hungary. jealously guarding its ‘classical’ past. the painter of gold and the female body. and a poetic talent as precocious as Keats or Rimbaud. despite the crash of 1873. and specifically morality. Within this large free-trade area. It was the issue that defined him as Austrian rather than German and ultimately led to his breach with Stefan George. Since. as in Germany it would have been. Hofmannsthal’s early verse. he wrote in a sonnet afterwards). however. economic progress was rapid. For Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929). it shared the language it did have to decide on its relation to the German tradition as a whole. ruled from Budapest. in which Jewish industrialists and bankers were prominent. but acquired a parliamentary system in which the interests of the various nationalities were kept in balance for a while. The literary culture of this class could also unfold freely since it was not faced with a hostile official and academic culture. luscious. . the only child of a Catholic but partly Jewish banking family. and Vienna came to house a large and wealthy bourgeoisie. though the myth of suicide continues to circulate) as Austria suffered its second great shock. whom he first met when he was 17 and had just published a first little poetic drama (‘he can kill without touching’. From 1867 the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established. of Bruckner and Mahler. and which was willing to act as a patron of the arts: in the last quarter of the century Vienna was the city of Strauss and Brahms. while the Austrian empire remained centred on Vienna. of the art nouveau movement of Secession and of Gustav Klimt.-7Stifter died (of cirrhosis of the liver.
but it meant life to Hofmannsthal. Catholicism meant liturgy to George. and formally perfect. might seem to have surrendered entirely to George’s aestheticism: Es läuft der Frühlingswind Durch kahle Alleen. strange things are in its blowing […] It shook down acacia blossoms and cooled the limbs that breathed and glowed. (‘Early Spring’ [‘Vorfrühling’] 1892) But at the same time he was writing more short plays in which those who dedicate their lives to art have to meet the reality of time and death. and a sense of the responsibility that comes from belonging to the human race. Seltsame Dinge sind In seinem Wehn […] Er schüttelte nieder Akazienblüten Und kühlte die Glieder Die atmend glühten The spring wind rushes down bare avenues.-8symbolist. however privileged one’s own existence. speaks through other great poems of his: Und mein Teil ist mehr als dieses Lebens .
and early a friend of Hofmannsthal’s. even the same language shared by different communities could be the vehicle of meanings that were not shared. and among his warmest admirers was the future linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) from one of Vienna’s richest families. made the first use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in German. (From 1903-6 Wittgenstein was educated in the Realschule in Linz – the school begun by Stifter – at . a dramatist and prose-writer. and this became the focus of Hofmannsthal’s thought about the relation of Art and Life. to be sure…’ [‘Manche freilich…’] 1895) ‘Art’ was a concept that encapsulated the relation of German literary intellectuals such as George to their nation and state. (1862-1931). to reveal the string of clichés that made up what passed for the mind of a bumptious young officer. and an instrument for influencing the way people think. dedicated to exposing the abuse of words by journalists and politicians. In Austria therefore it was a foreign import. 5 million Poles – and because of the commonalty with Germany: not only were languages different. Arthur Schnitzler. Viennese intellectuals of the 1890s had a sharply critical awareness that language was not just the medium in which a writer could construct self-sufficient beauty but was a link between literature and all human affairs. The equivalent concept for an Austrian was ‘language’. Language was a central problem for Austrian literature because of the linguistic multiplicity of the Austrian monarchy (to say nothing of Hungary) – 10 million German speakers. in his short story Leutnant Gustl (1901). (‘Some.-9Schlanke Flamme oder schmale Leier. 6 1/2 million Czechs. And my part is more than this life’s slender flame or narrow lyre. In 1899 the satirist and cabaret artist Karl Kraus (1874-1936) founded his journal The Torch (Die Fackel).
he noted.10 the same time as one of the century’s greatest abusers of words. such as a watering can or a dog in the sun. used language – extended monologues of the patients. a fictitious letter from Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon explaining why he is abandoning literature. Adolf Hitler. Not that Hofmannsthal intended to draw the same conclusion as Chandos from this simultaneous collapse of the ordering powers of language and the individual self. Words.. related. is quite inexpressible in the words that once seemed to him to coincide with it completely and he has become incapable of speaking or thinking coherently. Psychoanalysis. In Freud’s theory the conscious self was simply a precarious and shifting balance between unconscious forces. feelings and events that had made them what they thought they were. Chandos says. development in Vienna at this time questioned the very idea of an individual self. In 1902 Hofmannsthal drew a line under all he had written so far with an essay. and mainly sexual. prompted by the therapist – to reveal the forgotten. which he wished in the tradition of Grillparzer to make generally accessible. another. For him the letter marked only the abandonment of the particular conception of Art that generated its conflict with the interest of Life. He turned to full-length drama.) If the critique of language suggested that words express the experience not so much of an individual self as of a linguistic community. an idea essential both to German Lutheranism and to the Idealist and aesthetic philosophy that had proceeded out of it. Hofmannsthal had taken his decision and was committing himself now to a form of literature that was essentially public and put itself from the beginning at the service of others: ‘the way to the social as the way to the higher self’. and in the series of operas . as developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). have for him become completely detached from things: the infinite meaning that he can still occasionally glimpse in the most ordinary objects.
he produced a flood of inferior and pretentious verse but by about 1903 he had by sheer diligence worked himself to a point where he could formulate his personal vocation as a serious response to the challenge of the age: to ‘say’ (‘sagen’). The son of a railway official and a mother who felt that she had married beneath herself and really belonged in the court circles of Vienna. In the first decade of the twentieth century the awareness of a gathering crisis of personal identity. with extreme facility. as he liked to put it. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) struggled to find his identity in and through the word. 1905). The world that was beyond human words and feelings had. To Wedekind’s dramatizations of depersonalizing sex corresponded Schnitzler’s analyses of the roles of sexuality and death in constructing personality. La Ronde [Reigen] 1896-7).11 that from 1906 he wrote in collaboration with Richard Strauss (e. At first. In Austria. A native of Prague. was common to the bourgeoisie of both Germany and Austria. and indeed society (Dalliance [Liebelei]. he was strikingly successful throughout his life in finding aristocratic patrons willing to have him as a house guest and. what ‘is’. The Book of Hours (Das Stunden-Buch.. 1911) he may be said to have succeeded. led a wandering life like Nietzsche and George. Rather than be diverted by the difficulty of the task into treating literature as a . where German-speakers could not avoid the self-consciousness either of the élite or of the parvenu.g. By being made word and feeling the world came to ‘be’. in its very wordlessness and inarticulacy. the sense of a further crisis in the relation between language and its objects compounded the challenge for poetry. to be brought into poetry. for which he was commended by Freud. conducting his marriage at long distance. beneath the more obviously threatening crisis in the economic and political spheres. 1895. Der Rosenkavalier. however. and the poet’s work was therefore literally God’s – the theme of Rilke’s first (almost) mature collection.
the sense that modern industrial society drains ‘being’ out of things. the Cézanne-like cult of individual. 1907-8) which combine an intense gaze at animals. um zu sagen: Haus. Brunnen. fountain. Brücke. Sind wir vielleicht hier. gate. Rilke however again moved on. as Hofmannsthal had been. sculptures. and death in a cycle of ten long poems. The Duino Elegies (Duineser Elegien) took over ten years to complete but when the last were written in . began to wrestle directly with his fundamental themes of being.12 form of sociability. paintings. with slightly exhibitionist turns of phrase and rhyme. Fenster. Krug. and in 1911 at Duino Castle. fruit-tree. and momentary situations. Tor. . 9) Much of Rilke’s programme – the identification of self and world and the significance of its necessary counterpart. near Trieste. to create a gallery of unique experiences that are at once existential and linguistic. Rilke intended to press on with the solitary confrontation with things in language. the idea of ‘one’s own death’. window […]? (Duino Elegies. saying. bridge. and by a flexible metre loosely modelled on the elegies of Goethe and Hölderlin. Obstbaum..[…]? Are we perhaps here in order to say: house. A remarkable range of tones – from the satirical through the meditative to the ecstatic – and an even greater range of imagery – from the natural and the urban through Zen-like paradoxicality to a lucid abstraction worthy of Dante’s Paradise – are held together by an argument that is both thought and lived. people (historical and unnamed). Its poetic fruits came in the two volumes of New Poems (Neue Gedichte. jug. simple objects – was taken over into philosophy by Heidegger.
.. a Salzburg Protestant and a trained pharmacist. which drew extensively on Hölderlin. written at astonishing speed. Trakl. Sonnets to Orpheus (Sonette an Orpheus). deranged by the appalling aftermath of the battle of Grodek. but his ethereally synaesthetic.S. Without the Elegies it is possible that we would not have T. with the title Grodek. 17 lines.13 February 1922 they were accompanied by an entire new cycle of perfect poems. had an unstable temperament and a history of drug-taking. expressed sometimes in consolingly Eucharistic images but more often in moods of foreboding and the fear that ‘the golden image of man may be swallowed up by the icy waves of eternity’. has been called ‘the greatest German war poem’ and it has the horror and the grandeur of a (possibly Christian) Götterdämmerung. attracted the admiration of Karl Kraus and financial support from Wittgenstein. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In 1914 he was posted as a medical orderly to the Galician front and. Since their publication in 1923 the elegies and sonnets have not ceased to be recognized as among the most important poetic achievements of the twentieth century. Its last lines have been read as containing a hint of hope – as is proper in an apocalypse – but their foreground meaning is surely that this is a generation with no posterity: Die heiße Flamme des Geistes nährt heute ein gewaltiger Schmerz. he committed suicide a few weeks later. The war which interrupted Rilke’s work on his masterpiece – he did some war service in the military records office in Vienna – brought the poetry of Georg Trakl (1887-1914) to a tragic culmination. His last work. faintly archaic poems. The two collections published in his lifetime are full of a sense of living in the end times.
also Jewish. [Die dritte Walpurgisnacht]. later a Nobel prizewinner. while continuing his collaboration with Strauss. The Expressionist Franz Werfel (1890-1945). which he had consistently opposed. 1933. the unborn grandchildren. did Freud and the novelist and autobiographer Elias Canetti (1905-1994). 1922) and continued The Torch until he died in 1936. 1921) and the ‘supra-historical’ tragedy The Tower (Der Turm. 1925-8) which in its final version is a bleak acknowledgement that history knows no redemptions. Hofmannsthal. a dense and withering denunciation of the German Nazis. However. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary gave birth in 1918 only to a posterity of quarrelsome. nationalistic. published 1952). was left unpublished for fear of reprisals against his fellow-Jews (The Third Walpurgis Night.. wrote two great stageplays: the comedy A Difficult Man (Der Schwierige. composed mainly of direct and indirect quotations from their own utterances. in a mammoth satirical drama The Last Days of Mankind (Die letzten Tage der Menschheit. Wittgenstein settled in England as. escaped to America where he . Literature battled on for a while. its bourgeoisie obliterated by an inflation as severe as the German. Karl Kraus vented his wrath against the folly of the World War. after Hitler’s unification of Austria and Germany.14 Die ungebornen Enkel. Austria itself was reduced by the Versailles settlement to a German-speaking rump. and a stroke carried him off two days after the suicide of his son. The hot flame of the spirit is fed today by a terrible pain. and economically scarcely viable statelets soon to be reabsorbed into the German and then the Soviet Empire. Asked what an Austrian writer should now do. he answered ‘Die!’.
Kafka suffered an agonizing conflict between his need to write and his need to be included in the world of economic achievement and reproductive success represented by his father. and the need to earn a living. in order to maintain his ability to ‘say’ the world. in order to write. novels had been written that were set to become the best-known works in German-language literature. writing during the night. thanks to his talent and the beneficence of others. Their author. even outside home and family. nailed down by the overwhelming authority of his father. happiness. For Kafka being outside was also the condition. working during the day in a government insurance office. Kafka stayed there. by necessity. Kafka. by then the capital of the implausible state of Czechoslovakia. but he experienced it as a terrible fate. lived the life of the modern . lived the life of the obsolescent bourgeois. Franz Kafka (1883-1924). such as the modern economy. Rilke needed to be outside.. and felt threatened only by anything that tried to draw him in. his family. But whereas Rilke fled Prague to escape the stifling embrace of his mother. and sleeping only briefly in the afternoons. What both had in common was the all-determining experience of being outside. Only after 1925 did it become clear to the world that in provincial Prague. and he destroyed his health by living two lives at once. an arbitrary and inexplicable exclusion from family. 1941) in gratitude for the help he had received from nuns in Lourdes. and to a great extent the theme. and salvation. came from the Jewish minority within the same German-speaking community – itself a minority – in which Rilke originated. and experienced his writing as a way of making himself the outside of a world that was interior to him (‘nowhere shall world be but inside’ he wrote in the Seventh Duino Elegy). Rilke was content to be excluded and to drift from hotel to castle to tumbledown mansion in Provence. of his writing. Rilke.15 wrote The Song of Bernadette (Das Lied von Bernadette.
published 1927. and many of his stories. and one reason why his books seem to speak so directly of modern conditions and have given us the word ‘kafkaesque’. But the premise of the novel is that no link is to be shown between this life and Josef K. published 1925): it does not irrupt but is the permanent accompaniment to Josef K. written 1911. the furniture. are in paid employment. the employee. in a persuasive representation of modern life. but there are occasional irrational interventions. the streets.. his own sense of inadequacy to an incomprehensible but inescapable demand. the daily and weekly timetable of office hours. The central figures of all Kafka’s novels. to embody. the buildings. irrationality is the prevailing atmosphere in The Trial (Der Prozeß.16 proletarian. Dreamlike. at least partly. or nightmarish. For all of us who are working individuals in the era of globalization. and by the insistent suggestion of some link between Josef K. withheld from us by the system which enables us to work and which it is intrinsically impossible for any one individual to comprehend. among them the travelling circus in which he at last finds a home. investigation. by a jurisdiction he can never pin down. the satisfactions we work to obtain are. whether realistic or allegorical. 1914. In his first novel Missing Person ( Der Verschollene. and eventual execution. a society in which every individual talent automatically has its niche. Kafka met with varying success in his attempts.’s persecution and his philandering. the clothes.’s arraignment. on a charge that is never revealed.’s precisely pictured life as a bank executive in (presumably) Prague. a striking contrast with most of his predecessors in German and Austrian literature. . originally known as America) Karl Rossmann’s struggle to find a footing as an immigrant in America is frustrated mainly by scrupulously plotted misunderstandings reminiscent of farce. The sense that we are trapped in his mind is reinforced by a narrative logic that permits a door on a staircase in the bank to open on to a torture chamber.
) But K. 1931-1943). 1914) in which the consequences of a single nightmare presupposition are worked out in precise and unemotional detail and an image results capable of indefinitely extensible interpretation. As a surveyor he brings a promise of connection with the wider and modern world to the near-feudal conditions of the village the castle dominates.17 but it also limits the applicability of his parable (if that is what it is). We can detect something of the post-war context in which The Castle was written (Das Schloß. rather than some unnamed transgression. already had a reputation before the war thanks to his novel The Confusions of Young Törless (Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß. probably based on the village in Southern Bohemia where Kafka’s grandfather had been a butcher. notably Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung. (Stifter used a surveyor for a similar purpose in his story Limestone [Kalkstein]. He achieved the perfection he was looking for in his short stories. 1912) and In the Penal Colony (In der Strafkolonie. Törless is a cadet at a military boarding- .. published 1926) in a shift of focus which makes the work of the principal character. who originally had enough private means to abandon both a military and a scientific career in favour of literature. The epitaph on Austria-Hungary was written during the 1920s and 1930s. maintains the integrity of the image and prevents it from becoming a knowing manipulation of the reader of a kind in which Rilke too often indulges.’s quest for justice.. other than the lack of emotion in the face of the irrational. Musil. The absence of any mannerism in the style. K. the source of the frustration and perplexity.’s struggle for authentication of his work and status is as fruitless as Josef K. 1906). by Robert Musil (1880-1942) in his vast and uncompleted book (it is already begging a question to call it a novel) The Man Without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. All Kafka’s novels are fragmentary and he asked for them to be destroyed. and mainly in Berlin. 1922.
whether in a novel or in the historical understanding of the human past. had an increasingly inhibiting effect. A similar combination of intellectual and moral themes. witness of a crime. and so the fragmentary and inconclusive state in which the project ended reflected the inability of even the best-intentioned thinkers to do more than watch when in 1933 the sadists turned ideology into history. the passive. was to be attempted in The Man Without Qualities as a means to understanding the drift to war in 1914.) As the committee has to work out what developments of the last half-century should be given prominence. like its author. and his fate in the end resembled that of his earlier hero. But in the later stages of Musil’s work the reflective and ‘essayistic’ elements (his own word) multiplied out of control. his scepticism about the possibility of narrative. though on a grand scale. (The book. In its first volume the book had a clearly satirical structure: in 1913 in Austria (called ‘Cacania’) a committee is set up to prepare the expected celebrations in 1918 of the 70th anniversary of the Emperor’s accession. has almost as much of Germany in it as of Austria. its deliberations turn into an intellectual stock-taking which allows Musil to parade ironically every kind of ideology before the uncommitted eyes of his central character Ulrich. political. The freefloating intellectualism prevented the book from grasping the moral.. and so partially implicated. and personal disasters of 1914 which a historical approach would have made central. since it has been noted that in the same year the Prussians intend to celebrate 30 years of rule by their own Kaiser. .18 school who becomes aware that his identity lies neither in the world outside him nor in the feelings within him and as a result allows himself to participate. in the sadistic bullying of a contemporary. if passively. Törless.
Jelinek’s relentless deconstruction of the formulae of ordinary language. Sebald. The awareness of language has continued to distinguish the local tradition from that of Germany. in her novel Malina (1971) she anticipated some of the themes and methods of the prose-writer and dramatist Elfriede Jelinek (born 1946. now honoured in his own country. especially in the sexual domain.. have become so shrill and singleminded in their anti-Austrianism that they have had little to say to a more general public. has influenced many authors. such as the novelist Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989). 1966) had considerable success in the Federal republic and internationally. Those who have reacted bitterly to what they see as their compatriots’ refusal to recognize their share of responsibility for Nazi crimes. whose Abusing the Audience (Publikumsbeschimpfung. After 1945 writers who tried to understand what it was to be Austrian in terms of the history of the world-power that ended in 1918 tended to be politically conservative and to ignore their country’s more recent history. Drawing on Celan in her poetry.19 Hitler’s Empire was the final shock which destroyed what had been Austrian literature. and the next seven years made an impossible task into an inconceivable one. has parallels in the earlier work of Peter Handke (born 1942). . Even by 1938 there was too much of the past to come to terms with. Nobel prize 2006). a significant thinker in her own right who left Austria for Italy in 1953. However it is probably only the voluntary exile Bachmann whose sympathies have been broad enough for her interfusing of past and present to bear comparison with the work of W. and Wittgenstein. especially Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973).G.
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